By Lee Davis
This story has been written so many times that it’s almost become a cliché, and here it is again: Over the Mountain schools dominated statewide athletic competition in the 2016-17 academic year.
But that’s just the hometown sportswriter building up the hometown teams, isn’t it?
Actually, it’s just the fact. Area schools earned championships in 2016-17 in sports ranging from football to bowling. Three Over the Mountain schools – Hoover, Mountain Brook and Homewood – won a whopping 17 titles among them.
The Class 7A-aligned Bucs earned seven state championships, in football, baseball, girls basketball, boys indoor track and field, girls indoor track and field, boys outdoor track and field and girls outdoor track and field.
A few miles down the road, the Spartans claimed five titles, bringing their 50-year total to 160 blue trophies. Mountain Brook’s championships this year came in boys basketball, volleyball, boys golf, boys tennis and girls tennis.
In Class 6A, the Patriots were as dominant in their alignment as Mountain Brook was in the larger classification. Homewood brought home titles in girls basketball, boys cross-country, girls cross-country, girls indoor track and girls outdoor track.
Other multi-championship winners were Class 7A Spain Park, which claimed titles in bowling and girls golf; Class 4A-5A Briarwood, which won crowns in girls tennis and girls soccer; Class 1A-3A Altamont with championships in boys tennis and girls outdoor track; and Class 1A Westminster-Oak Mountain with titles in girls cross-country and boys outdoor track.
Oak Mountain and Vestavia Hills claimed only one title each, but they were big-time successes. The Eagles captured their third consecutive Class 7A boys soccer title and the Rebels won their second straight Class 7A wrestling championship.
As they say, that’s domination.
This impressive list doesn’t even include runner-up finishes. Not to list them all, but Mountain Brook teams earned four second-place finishes, while Hoover and Vestavia each had three. Spain Park and Westminster-Oak Mountain also had a pair of number two awards.
All of the championships are memorable and special, of course, but looking back, there are several that will always stand out in my mind.
• Hoover’s 17-7 win over McGill-Toolen in the Class 7A football final gave the Bucs their fourth championship in five years and reestablished them as Alabama’s premier football power. Hoover’s dynasty under Josh Niblett is at least the equal of the one former coach Rush Propst built over a decade ago. And there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.
• Mountain Brook earned its third state Class 7A basketball championship in the past five years under coach Bucky McMillan, burying any remaining stereotypes that exist about what type of schools can enjoy big-time success in basketball. McMillan’s version of the “process” rivals that of a well-known football coach, and he always seems to find the right parts to fit the system. The Spartan basketball dynasty may not be quite as strong as Hoover’s in football, but as long as McMillan is the coach, there’s not likely to be a serious downturn.
• The Hoover girls basketball team returned to prominence by winning its first Class 7A title since 2013. Coach Krystle Johnson – who starred on the Bucs’ 2001 champions – directed her alma mater to the championship in her first year at the helm. It probably won’t be her last blue trophy.
• Homewood’s amazing junior class helped the Lady Patriots to a second Class 6A championship in three years. As seniors, the group will be expected to add a third in 2017-18.
• The Patriots’ impressive showing in cross-country and track shows once again the job that Homewood coach Tom Esslinger has done in recruiting some of the school’s top athletes to the running sports. There was a time that Homewood was barely competitive in any of them.
• New Vestavia wrestling coach Tee Adams had no problem filling the big shoes of his predecessor, Steve Gaydosh, by winning a title in his first year at the helm. Adams wrestled for Gaydosh at Vestavia a few years back.
• Oak Mountain continued its Hoover-style grip on boys Class 7A soccer, earning its third consecutive championship. While soccer may be the single strongest team sport in this area, the Eagles dynasty looks sturdy.
• Spain Park won another state bowling title under Coach Stephen Hobbs. Bowling is a new sport on the Alabama High School Athletic Association scene and it’s nice to see more opportunities for young athletes. Who knows? One day bowling’s rise may parallel the ascension of soccer more than 20 years ago.
• Hoover’s comeback to defeat Auburn to claim the Class 7A baseball title was a great way to close the school year. Pitcher Brock Guffey’s two-hit shutout of the Tigers in the crucial second game will forever be a part of Buccaneer baseball lore. The championship was a tribute to a group of young people who simply were determined to win, regardless of the odds.
But, hey, you could say that about any of our state champions. Congratulations to them all. ϖ